Caitlin McCuskey

Final Project statement: 

After the midterm project, it became clear that mapping Siena in any capacity was going to be a huge challenge.  After working on a largely broad and conceptual scale, I reversed the process to become as specific as possible.  This final project presents a series of images, videos, and objects that represent Siena in both physicality and spirit.  The guidebook is meant to help the viewer index each piece of the “museum,” while leaving most of the connections between them unclear and fluid.  The exhibit is attempting to earnestly convey one individual’s connection to Siena. By also incorporating obviously falsified information, the work reveals the beautiful absurdity of the small interactions I have experienced here over the past four months. Inspirations include the Museum of Jurassic Technology (located in Los Angeles) as well as the book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders.

Final Reading Response:  “The Blue of Distance” by Rebecca Solnit

This reading was poetic and powerful.  There were many parts that struck me.  Giving distance a color was incredibly comforting to me.  It’s a thought that allows one to be grounded, even during travel in unfamiliar places. I could also directly connect to the anecdote about The Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City, having grown up in Utah just a few hours north.  I have also gazed out at Antelope Island and felt its mystery.  I also enjoyed the section near the end where the author discusses the “land becoming a map of itself.”  However, that map contains no symbols or words allowing itself to be read.  An illegible map.  This is an idea that I have tried to incorporate into my own artistic work here in Siena.  So, it was exciting that someone else is thinking about that in a different lens.  Overall, I found this short reading very inspiring and beautiful.

Mid-Term Project:


For my midterm project, I applied Gregg Lynn’s idea of the “embryological house” to Siena.  Lynn created a computer program that uses a randomized algorithm to slowly morph a sphere floating in cyberspace.  A single point on the sphere become active and affects only the points directly next to it, which causes a chain reaction.  The user can pause at any moment in order to create a “building plan” from the created form.  Siena is a city of layers, built on top of one another over time.  The city’s form is dictated by daily decisions on small and large scales.  A contractor repurposes a building, a kid stuffs a candy wrapper in between two bricks, a gust of wind blows a shingle off a roof, the city changes.  In this way, there is a complex and unseen algorithm that is constantly modifying Siena.  I want to explore how Siena’s “artificiality” as a man-made city dissolves and how the rigid architecture of the city is made legible through moments of clarity that reveal it as something malleable.

My project is an illegible map of Siena.  The “wall” is made of found materials that are all temporary and easy to move, break, and change.  I found some of my materials at a construction site near the city wall, and the rest were in a closet near my studio.  However, all of the materials are objects I have seen on the street, categorized as rubbish.

The layer underneath is inspired by my first gate project: responding to landscape.  As I walked around Siena, I kept drawing this spiral form, sometimes very quickly and roughly, sometimes in a more detailed way.  Having no technical expertise in topographical mapping, I felt myself instinctively trying to make sense of my surroundings by drawing this form and transforming it into a symbol.

During my walk, I noticed several places where ivy had nestled itself into cracks in the wall, slowly climbing and overtaking it: an “invasion” in slow motion. I harvested some of this ivy and used it to connect the sculpture to the drawing.

Overall, this project was an effort to visualize the algorithm that changes Siena.  I hope to continue working through this idea and get input from many different sources in order to better understand how to map the movement of a city. 

Reading response for Jaar & Saltz: 

Since deciding to study art seriously, I have struggle to articulate why it is important to me. I don’t really want to be an artist in the professional sense, nor do I think I possess the talent or charisma to do so. I am interested in and excited by the process of creation. Jerry Saltz claims that “every single work of art ever made….is a theory. It’s a theory about the way art should or should not look.” I am fascinated by his suggestion that every image is a test, that every work is an experiment, that nothing is finished. The conversation among ideas colliding with one another is what holds real value. The “connections” that Alfredo Jaar discussed in his speech seem to relate directly to this thought about art’s value. Understanding art as a method of communication, as an answer within a larger conversation, is central to my articulation of its value. I appreciate how these readings carve out a broad, yet applicable view of art; in doing so, they add a human, communicative dimension to the often abstract thought that shapes ideas of meaning and creation in the art world.

“Psychogeography” Reading Response: 

The psychogeography reading really resonated with me. Since I was introduced to the artist Julie Mehretu, I have been fascinated by psychogeography as a way to think about artistic mapping.  This reading by Guy Debord interprets it in a very literal way, which was an interesting counterpoint to the more conceptual way I’ve thought about psychogeography in the past.  On page 84, he describes a city as full of “glimpses of original conceptions of space” and “ghosts” of previous buildings in a past geological time.  As I’ve been exploring Siena, I’ve been noticing a lot of these “ghosts.”  Whether it’s a scratch or a hole in a wall, or a park hidden from view full of graffiti, Siena is full of these moments.  This reading helped me think about these moments as points of geographical emotion.  By distilling the city into this type of subjective map, I think I will be better able to understand Siena as a city of layers, both historical and physical.

“Unstable Territories” Reading Response: 

Before doing this reading, I went on a five-hour trek around the “border” of Siena, trying to follow the ancient wall as closely as possible.  This proved extremely difficult, but I learned a lot about how I, as a pedestrian, could relate and fit in to the city.  While the physical border of the city wasn’t always visible, I could always vaguely sense its presence.  Francesco Careri’s idea of a “liquid city” resonated with my exploration, as the space of Siena abruptly moved me from tiny confined alleyways to huge panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside.  Specifically, I found several strange abandoned, yet also public, spaces that represented “repressed memories” and “unconscious zones of space” hidden within the folds of the urban architecture.  In conclusion, I feel that I learned more about the inner workings of Siena by exploring the border than I would have by walking through the busier center of town.  This “Unstable Territory” reading helped me relate my experience to different ways artists have attempted to understand urban space.

Tempo Zulu / Coordinated Universal Time Intro Unit Project:

The stones from the Tempo Zulu project act as a medium of communication: spanning both physical distance and time to connect past versions of the city with current inhabitants.  The walls of Siena seem to act similarly, telling a story that isn’t always obvious or even legible.  They create both a bridge and a barrier.  For example, there are many brick-sized holes in the walls of the buildings.  Many of these holes were used for scaffolding at one time or another to expand the city due to fluctuating population size.  Occasionally, someone has put a loose brick in one of these holes, to attempt to cover the “imperfection.”  Referred to as “ghost bricks,” these minor aesthetic decisions have absolutely no structural purpose.  However, they tell a detailed and complex story that can be interpreted in multiple ways.  For my project, I wanted to highlight this strange architectural phenomenon by focusing on the corners of the city—where two walls (or stories) physically intersect.  At these points, I propose a “melting” or breakdown of the barrier—creating a moment of visual clarity meant to evoke an emotional response.  Depending on location in the city, materials such as glass, clay, rubber, grass, tile, paper, and metal could be used to replace the harsh perpendicular of stone and transform the edge.  In my mind, the form would be organic: two walls meeting and melting onto the cobblestones.  However, location would determine the meaning and form of the installation.



“Points of Entry” Intro Unit Project:

My initial instinct during this project was to try to embody the sense of fleeting interstitial space through wire structures created during the experience. Specifically, walking through the gate of Porta Camollia. I spent a while walking back and forth through the porta, reacting physically with a length of wire. I ended up with four different sculptures that were meant to capture that experience. As I walked back and forth, I started to become interested in why the “interstitial space” that exists in the door of the gate itself was so awkward to stand in. The space moved people through it, and no one lingered. Feeling neither inside nor outside the city was a strange and unpleasant feeling. This directly relates to the architectural space discussed in the article, however I feel like I can more understand the theory now that I’ve thought about it in a tangible context.

unspecifiedCaitlin McCuskey, USA
Bio statement:
My name is Caitlin and I’m from Utah, though I’m currently living in Ohio as a third-year college student at Oberlin College.  I’m an Art major with minors in Environmental studies and English.  I’m interested in combining these fields through sustainable architecture and design.  I use many different mediums, but recently have been moving back and forth between charcoal and wire.  My process involves recreating sketches in different mediums repeatedly, focused mainly on depicting either a landscape, a building, or a body.  I find the moments of connection between these three subjects fascinating.  I hope to continue working with this idea, and broaden my understanding through experimentation and conversation.
Previous artwork by Caitlin McCuskey: